20 Endangered Languages in 2020: Ainu – Review

20 Endangered Languages in 2020 - Ainu: Review

Another eighteen days, another endangered language that it’s time for me to say goodbye to. This time, it’s Ainu, which has been an interesting experience, highlighting some of the more common issues when it comes to learning a language that isn’t widely spoken.

So, I started off learning Ainu on 19th January, with all the optimism and enthusiasm I could muster. After my wild success with Scottish Gaelic, I was hoping to have just as smooth a journey with Ainu; after all, there was an app that had it and I’d seen people on Twitter learning it, so how hard could the whole thing be?

Before I get into that, let’s have a quick look back at my predictions in January:

Much like with Gàidhlig, I’d hope to be able to have a basic conversation about myself by the 5th February, but would look at having 300-500 words at hand, considering the fact that I’ve already found a Memrise course that will complement the Unilang course I want to work through.

I’m also not going to be super disappointed if the conversation part turns out to be a little more difficult than I first thought; the Unilang/Sapporo course seems very grammar heavy, so I might end up taking a different path there.

Well, that didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped! I ended up with 220 words on Memrise, and around 75 words on Drops before I abandoned it as a resource—so not that far off my minimum, but not quite where I thought I’d be.

Also, it’s nice to see that I was a little more realistic about my conversation level, at least! 😊 I did manage to pull something together for a video, here for your entertainment:


Hopefully this isn’t a total mess! I had to look up the number 28 (the Unilang course doesn’t cover numbers, for some reason?) and took a guess that Japanese loanwords might be used for countries—which is likely super untrue for Japan but this was all I had. At least I’m pretty sure ‘tanto mean na’ is right because I think I stole it from the course! 😂

What did I get done?

I worked through up to lesson 16 of the Unilang/STV course, which covered a lot of (I think!) unnecessary things, while leaving out the necessary parts. I also played Drops a whole bunch and watched six video lessons on the Shito Channel on YouTube.

I also obviously spent a fair bit of time on Memrise and managed to more or less keep up with where I was with the Unilang course, though I didn’t complete the entire katakana unit at the beginning.

How do I feel about this language?

About the language itself: I still find it interesting. To me, it sounds a lot like Japanese, but then there are sounds that suddenly stand out as different. I enjoy parts of its grammar too; the fact that its counting system is based on 20s, like Basque and French, is pretty cool, and the particles seem a lot less complicated than (I know) they could be.

About learning it from English: phew, it’s a lot! The thing is, there are going to be a lot of languages I’m tackling this year where the resources are mainly not in English—and I’m prepared for that; I chose Nahuatl and DGS, for example, explicitly because I know that I know enough Spanish and German to work through those languages when necessary.

I do not know any Japanese. Well, a handful of words, but nothing of use to me here and that really restricted the resources I could use. It meant that I was learning one dialect from the material adapted from the STV course but then another via Drops and (I think!) another through the YouTube videos. Plus, the STV audio was passably useful to me, but would have been more useful if I could understand the whole thing and work out what was coming up next.

I also don’t think any of the resources I used were overly impressive. The Shito Channel videos were good, especially the first couple, but then full conversations were dived into quickly and, because I don’t speak Japanese, it was difficult to understand context. (Note: there are English subtitles on the videos for the Ainu conversation and the video notes, while in Japanese, can generally be pasted into Google Translate for basic understanding, so please don’t think I’m telling you not to use this as a resource!)

Drops was a bit of a waste of my time; it reinforced some words I had already learnt but I couldn’t get new ones to stick. I don’t know if it’s that the method doesn’t work for me or if it’s that I only had five minutes available every ten hours—it just wasn’t the one. I will probably give it another try when I move on to Māori at the end of March, but I don’t really see it delivering on what it promises, for me.

Memrise was fundamentally good, but sadly whoever put the course together had relied a lot on the katakana, so when I decided, halfway through, to abandon any pretence of using katakana myself, it made going through the Memrise course a bit frustrating and tedious.

The Unilang course/STV adaption is good and thorough, but not much use if you want a conversational grasp of the language, I think. And I don’t really understand why—if you want to promote an endangered language, surely making it seem a little useful would make it more popular? I don’t know for sure and I don’t know what they’ve been doing in the years since, but this wasn’t exactly what I was after, which is a shame.

But, all that said, don’t let me put you off learning Ainu! If you speak Japanese, especially, I’m sure there are plenty of amazing resources out there for you to use (lots of hidden gems, I bet) and even if you don’t, if you’re determined enough then you’ll be able to pick up enough to move onto something more advanced. I might suggest learning a little Japanese before you being (if you can!), though.

What about those stats?


I’ve studied Ainu for 642 minutes (10.7 hours) over the last eighteen days, averaging out to approximately 36 minutes (0.59 hours) per day. Again, that’s remained pretty steady, a little above my half an hour per day target, so that’s good.

Like I said before, I learnt 220 words on Memrise and just over 75 words on Drops, so around 295 words in total. I got up to lesson 16 of the Unilang/STV course and lesson 6 on the Shito Channel (YouTube).

Not bad at all, considering!

Have a chart:

chart (8)

Only four resources for me this time around, but I’m not surprised and glad to see I spent the vast majority of that time on the Unilang course and Memrise—they were reinforcing each other, so what I’ve learnt should have stuck pretty well.

What’s next?

From today, I’m learning Guernésiais, the language of—you guessed it, Guernsey. I’ll drop the intro post for that tomorrow and will also update the resources Google Sheet with the extra resources I used for Ainu and the ones I’m going to use for Guernésiais.

Apunno paye yan!

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